Empathy In Virtual Sales Must Be Authentic

BY Jessica Helinski
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Empathy in virtual sales is just as important as it is in-​person; some may argue that showing empathy is even more important when conversing digitally. When not in person, salespeople don’t get to nurture the intimacy of a shared space or play off body language. The industry-​wide adoption of virtual selling may have reps worried about expressing empathy through a screen. “Can salespeople achieve true empathy when communicating with buyers online, and is it really that critical?” asks Christopher Lloyd Chang in a LinkedIn article. His answer to that question is a resounding “yes.” 

Empathy in virtual sales: Why bother?

Sales in today’s environment are quite different than in the past. Modern buyers are rejecting salespeople who seemingly only care about making quota; they want sellers who care about them. Technology has yet to replace the rapport between buyer and seller, and reps must do what they can to nurture and sustain that rapport. Empathy does just that, showing that you understand how others feel. 

Christopher expertly adds his explanation about why today’s reps must express empathy: “It’s not about deals or revenue, or new territories and opportunities. It’s about cultivating a network through understanding and meaningful interactions.”

In sales, empathy actually takes on a bit wider of a meaning to include seeing the world through the buyer’s eyes in addition to understanding their needs. And, it’s about seeing them as a person, not just a prospect or client. Empathy in virtual sales will close that digital space by creating an emotional connection in addition to a professional one.

Avoid “toxic” empathy

While it may seem like an oxymoron, toxic empathy does exist. Christopher explains that reps can overdo their efforts, resulting in inauthentic actions and displays. “Empathy isn’t about ‘going through the motions’ or following a template,” he writes. “It needs to be real and genuine.” Most likely, the other person will pick up on this inauthenticity, but thankfully, there are ways to build and authentically express empathy. 

Don’t bother with generic questions like, “how are you doing?” and “how has your week been?” These are tossaway lines that can be said to anyone. Personalize what you say as much as you can, and add in something of value if possible. Reach out to them as a person rather than a prospect or customer. Empathy in virtual sales doesn’t always have to involve sales: Ask about a recent trip, their family, an upcoming event, etc. Reaching out with genuine curiosity and care sets the tone for something more than a business relationship,” Christopher writes. “It creates a connection that’s personal and human. Sellers become friends. Products and services become tailored solutions.”

Don’t just limit expressing empathy in virtual sales during meetings either. Any digital outreach, whether it’s an email or a social media message, presents an opportunity to display empathy. This soft skill will help reps stand out and establish rapport even when deals are having to be made online. As Christopher points out, “Customers shouldn’t see you as someone with an intent to sell to them, but rather someone who cares enough to listen attentively when they talk. When you demonstrate interest beyond what you can get out of it (a sale), you open the door to that sale even wider.”